WASHINGTON — Rev. Al Sharpton was eight years old when the inaugural March on Washington took D.C. by storm in 1963. Yet the now 65-year-old reverend has made it his mission to continue organizing commemorative marches, ensuring that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic message endures to the finish line.
And Sharpton knows he has not yet crossed that finish line.
When George Floyd died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, Sharpton said he'd had enough. Despite the ongoing pandemic, as he gave Floyd's eulogy, he announced the 2020 March on Washington, admittedly not knowing how he would make it happen, simply knowing that the why was greater than the how.
"In 1963, in the middle of struggle and murder, they came to Washington to demand that the federal government give them a civil rights act and voting rights," Sharpton said. "Because they came in 63, we were able to come back in 2020. They opened the door for us, but there are still some doors we have to open and some people we've got to straighten out."
Sharpton previously said he called for the march now because he felt a sense of urgency that couldn't wait. And Friday, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he proclaimed his urgent need for all to hear.
"We need Mitch McConnell and the U.S. Senate to meet on the George Floyd Policing and Justice Act, or we're gonna meet you senators at the polls in Nov. 3," Sharpton said. "Whether we got to walk in, mail in, ride in, crawl in, we want our bill passed."
The reverend educated the crowd on the origins of the slogan, Black Lives Matter, saying that it has resonated with the fervor that it has because "for too long ... everybody hasn't mattered the same in America."
"We're not gonna lay and submit no more. We're not gonna take it," Sharpton said. "Some have different tactics, but we all are rising up. You gonna get your knee off our neck. If we gotta march every day, if we gotta vote every day, we will get yo knee off our neck. Enough is enough."
He thanked the many civil rights activists who came before him to pave the way for Friday's March on Washington, including the late Rep. John Lewis, Rev. Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton and, of course, Dr. King himself. The reverend ended his 20-minute address with a simple ask of the crowd: leave the national mall committed to keeping the dream alive.
"We come today black and white, all races and religions and sexual orientations to say the dream is still alive. You might have killed the dreamer, but you can't kill the dream. Because truth crushed to Earth shall rise again. We go rise, never to fall again. We go stand up, even when our legs are tired. We gon make this dream come true."